Sunday, February 24, 2008

Window Gazing

As many of you know I live in South Korea. I have lived here for 7 years now. When travelling in various countries, people often ask me, "where are you from?" I love to mess with their heads and say, "South Korea." I know they really mean where is my accent from ... but still the reactions are fun.

Perhaps the funniest time this happened was a year ago golfing with a friend in Keri Keri (the North of New Zealand). She is my neighbour here in Korea and is from the USA. I was playing tour guide and she wanted to golf so one glorious morning, her, I and another friend were trucking our way along a golf course. We noticed an Asian couple trotting along behind us and I got the giggles because living in an Asian country, I have learnt several things. Land is scarce so golfing is very expensive. If you play golf, you don't hack around a golf course like we were doing. It's SERIOUS and you need "THE GEAR"! I have also learnt that Korea has a love affair with Burberry (that is the beige and black plaid and is a major designer label to boot). So ... as we trotted along, I was keeping a surreptitious eye on our fellow golfers. I noticed they were decked out in Burberry golf gear. They were very serious about their golf form and must have been wincing in pain at my hacking of golf balls. I am such a bad golfer that part way down one of the fairways, I noticed a golf ball. I looked around and saw noone, so figured it was lost. I picked it up and went to stroll on, but a very irate man came through the trees ... needless to say he was not impressed with me at all! Anyway ... I was being a bit naughty and making fun of my fellow golfers. Particularly when they pushed a button on their golf bag cart and it drove itself up the hill!

Part way through the game, I shot a ball into the water (of course, this was part of my clever plan ... I was AIMING for the water people!) I was trying to get the ball out with the cumbersome device left by the golf club (which consisted of a heavy metal pole with a chicken wire basket one end). It was too heavy and kept falling in and stirring up the mud. I had just decided to leave it, when who should appear behind me? Ms Burberry herself! And I was a tad ashamed when she graciously offered me her ball retriever. It was a bit of a clever, high tech gadget- you pushed a button and the handle shot out and extended in three snaps. Another button push and the actual ball retriever part folded out too (I might be making that bit up but hey ... its for the art of story!). This gadget was fabulous. Unfortunately my arms were about 3 feet too short so we called it quits. I smiled at her and asked her where she was from (I was thinking Hong Kong or Taiwan). She smiled and said, "Auckland." She asked me where I was from and I smiled and said, "Korea!". The irony of it struck me and I started laughing and said, "well really I am from New Zealand but I live in Korea. She said, "Well really I am from Hong Kong but I live here now." Don't judge on appearences people!

Anyway ... back to the main direction I was heading. When people hear I have lived here for 7 years, the next comment invariably is, "7 years?! Wow, you must really love it there." And the thing is, I don't love it here. Given the choice of sunny, clean New Zealand with great beaches ... a population density of 14 people per square kilometre (or 74 if you live in Auckland) or smoggy, polluted, crowded Seoul where there are 9000 people per square kilometer and an insane pace of life, there is no comparison. However, God has me here and I can honestly say that I do love my life and I believe life is what you make of it whereever you are.

So today, I thought I would give you a little glimpse through the window of the world I live in. Late this morning (Sunday) I headed out on my scooter for a haircut. A scooter is the ideal vehicle in Seoul because you can go around the bumper to bumper stationary traffic and park anywhere you like (including the pavement). In addition, if you drive like a local, that also means you get to run red lights at minor intersections! After my haircut I went to get a Coldstone Creamery icecream and sat in the window with a Phillip Yancy book eating, reading and watching the world go by. It was a positively balmy day today. Beautiful sunny skies and about -2 degrees Celcius (thats really really chilly for those of you who think in Farenheit). However, it was nice in comparison to the weeks of -14C with wind chill weather we have been having.

As I looked at the window, I saw a sight that is not unusual. It was a graduation day for a university and a bunch of old ladies (adjumonies) were squatting on the pavement (they can do this for hours) selling flowers. They had obviously been to the flower market and then prepped the flowers on the street as all the trimmings were there for bouquets. You often see them selling off stands or squatting selling nuts, seeds, vegetables or fruit. One of these old ladies caught my eye and I couldn't help but notice how beautiful she was. It was freezing outside, and she had probably been there for hours. I would think she was in her late 60s or early 70s and she was lovely. No one was stopping to buy her flowers (people already had flowers so I am guessing they got them further up the road) but she sat with patience, grace and dignity, smiling and nodding at people. She so moved me, that I stopped and bought some of her flowers.

As I looked at her, I felt a glimpse of how much God must love her and the Korean people. They have been through so much hardship. Korea was devastated in the Korean war - I have talked with old returning ANZAC soldiers and they tell me their stories of what Seoul and Korea were like when they left. Basically a huge pile of rubble - flattened and devasted. Now, Seoul is a bustling modern city with high rises and neon everywhere. It has a booming economy. Beneath the glitz though there is a sadness. Korea is a divided nation. Instead of one Korea, it is two. And the gulf between the Koreas is huge. The tragedy of the two Koreas are that families are forever separated. Parents from children, sibling from sibling, relatives forever split. The generation of older people are dying and many will die having never been reunited with their loved ones. Imagine if in one day, a minefield and fence got strung up across your country separating your family ... if all communication was cut off. For Koreans, who cherish and love family, who pay respects to their ancestors and honor each other, this is an unimaginable grief that must tear their hearts in two.

The younger generations face a different challenge. One of the things that is entrenched in the culture I see around me is a must to be the best and have the best. Materialism is everywhere. People must wear the right labels and go to the right schools and universities. it is not enough to try your hardest. You must strive to be the best and if you are not the best, there is a sense of shame and failure. I have thought about this and discussed a theory with Korean friends for several years. Part of why I think this has taken off is because of the recent history of Korea. I think after the war, so many had nothing. They fought to make a life for themselves and provide for their families. Children grew up poor but were educated because their parents sacrificed to make this happen. These parents determined that their children would not grow up without as they did, so they worked hard to educate their children and give them the best they could. This perpetuated until now, we have a generation of children who have grown up with nothing in their lives except studying hard to get into the best universities to have the best. Add having the best things into this and the current generation of teens is very materialistic - money and status counts and little else. What a tragedy. Yet are we any different in the west? We just put a different spin on it.

Pray for Korea ... its a country where God has really moved, but that movement is starting to be replaced with apathy and indifference as life becomes comfortable and materialism takes hold.

A little window in my life ... what's the view like through your window?


Demara said...

WOw! You know I totally understand what you are saying here. When I was in Busan in 2002 I too saw everything that you explained here. Coming from a place like that really opens your eyes when you return to your hometown in the West. For me it's Canada and it's huge. We have SO MUCH!

Danifesto said...

Love love loved this post! Laughed at the Burberry. I'm glad you bought those flowers. That was awesome. Someday Korea will be reunified. It's just a matter of time.

Folded Wings said...

What a beautiful and insightful post. thanks so much for sharing. I loved looking through your window into your life.